Ronald Koeman hopes to see that Southampton have learned their lessons from the defeat to Stoke City earlier this season when the teams meet in the Premier League on Saturday.
An early goal from Bojan Krkic handed Mark Hughes’ side all three points in the reverse fixture in November to end a six-game unbeaten league run for Saints.
Koeman’s men have endured a dip in form in recent weeks, having gone three without a victory in the Premier League, while Stoke picked up a point at Chelsea last Saturday to extend their undefeated streak to four matches.
With Stoke having lost just once in six league games at the Britannia Stadium, Koeman says it is vital that Southampton show improvement from the reverse fixture in order to keep their European hopes alive.
“It’s a big game against Stoke. Both teams have a lot of ambition to grow and it’s always very close between us,” he told the media on Thursday. “It’s a tough place to go. They’re doing a great job, they’ve signed very good players.
“We didn’t play well and we were surprised by their fast counter-attacking. We learned from that. We know we have a team who can beat Stoke but we need to be at our top level.”
Koeman challenged his side to improve their attacking form – Southampton have scored just six in their last 10 league games on the road – and they have received a boost with news that Shane Long is fit to return from a knee injury.
“Shane is back, he’s available. He’s trained this week without any problems,” Koeman confirmed, though Charlie Austin (hamstring) remains out and Jose Fonte is suspended.
Stoke’s strong run of results has taken them to within just four points of sixth-placed Manchester United with just nine games remaining and, with two wins from their last two against Southampton, defender Erik Pieters insists morale could not be higher.
“Everyone can’t wait to play the next game because we all believe that we can keep on improving,” he told the club’s official website.
“Our recent results have been very good. We had a period of bad games, but now we have picked up again and gaining positive results and performances.
“There is no doubt that we want to be better than last season. There are nine games to go and lots of points to play for so if we keep playing with belief we can get really far.”
Captain Ryan Shawcross could be in contention after returning to full training this week following a back injury, while Charlie Adam (calf) is also vying to make the squad.
Phil Bardsley (calf) and Glen Johnson (knee) are expected to be out, as is long-term absentee Marc Wilson (also knee). Glenn Whelan, meanwhile, is in line to make his 300th appearance for the club.
Key Opta Stats:
– Southampton have won just two of their last eight Premier League away matches (W2 D1 L5).
– Koeman’s side have kept a clean sheet in three of their last four Premier League away games, but lost their last road trip 0-2 to Bournemouth.
– Without Marko Arnautovic’s nine Premier League goals this season, Stoke City would be 12 points worse off.
– Jack Butland has been forced into making more saves than any other Premier League goalkeeper this season (98).
– Of goalkeepers to have played more than once in the Premier League this season, Fraser Forster has the best saves to shots ratio (81.5 per cent).